Slim chance? Dropping down for middleweight title shot could be in Rashad Evans' future

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – A devilish grin covered Jon Jones' face. The UFC light heavyweight champion was asked which of the men he'd already beaten that he'd most like to give a rematch.

On the surface, the question didn't seem to make much sense. Jones, though, thought about it carefully for a couple of seconds before he came upon the perfect answer.

"Rashad," Jones said, firmly. "Because the next time, I'd finish him."

Rashad, of course, is ex-light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, Jones' former friend and confidante. Evans lost a five-round decision to Jones at UFC 145 in April and hasn't fought since.

One of the sport's true good guys, Evans has been through some trying times personally beyond the well-publicized split with Jones and coach Greg Jackson. He also went through a divorce, a process that takes a toll on anyone.

By stepping away from the sport briefly following the loss to Jones, Evans was able to set his personal life in order and clear his head. A focused and distraction-free Evans is a very dangerous man.

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He's 22-2-1 with his only defeats coming by knockout to Lyoto Machida and by decision to Jones, both in title fights.

And now that he's problem-free and concentrated solely on his game, Evans wants to prove with his performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 156 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center that he's prepared for another title run.

The question is whether that run will come once again at light heavyweight or at middleweight.

UFC president Dana White has hinted that there is some sort of mystery challenger out there in addition to Chris Weidman who may get the next shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva. White wouldn't say who it is, but if he can make the weight, there could be few better options than Evans.

Evans would be a legitimate threat to beat Silva and there are very few of those walking the planet today.

He's interested, and he's got a title run of one kind or another on his mind.

"I'm working my way back to get another chance to fight for the title," Evans said. "I climbed the ladder once and got it. I lost it and climbed back up there, but I didn't get it, so now I'm trying to get there again. The thing is, I've been around, but I'm still a young fighter. Whether it is at 205, or at 185 if I could make the weight, I want to fight the top guys and be in the title picture.

"I'm not here to fight meaningless fights. I want to fight guys who matter, guys who are scary and who get the juices flowing."

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It will be a challenge for him to make 185, though. He won Season Two of "The Ultimate Fighter" at heavyweight and still walks around at 220 pounds between fights. He hasn't been near 185 since 2003, when he wrestled at 174 for Michigan State.

So, making it would be a challenge for Evans, but if it can be done, he'd eagerly do it for the opportunity to face Silva.

Evans sounds almost like a fan gushing over Silva, who holds virtually every major record in the UFC.

"I love to watch Anderson Silva compete and he's one of my favorite athletes in any sport," Evans said. "As a fighter, I truly respect what he's done in this sport and the way he's dominated. It's been amazing.

"I'd love to get the chance to compete against him, but I'll be honest, it would be bittersweet. It would be an honor for me to have a chance to compete against him, but I say it's bittersweet because if I get the chance, I know I could beat him because of the way his style is."

It's easy to say that because Silva isn't a wrestler; Evans or Weidman have the style to beat him. But even though one-time Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson did well in the first round against Silva, Silva submitted Henderson in the second. And despite success using his wrestling in two fights against Silva, Chael Sonnen only has a submission loss and a technical knockout loss to show for it.

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Evans is talented enough to beat Silva if all goes well, but he would never do it in the kind of mindset he was in before the Jones fight.

With all the personal issues and acrimony behind him, Evans instantly becomes one of the sport's most dangerous men.

He's learned, too, from his brief time holding the light heavyweight belt the unique pressures that come from being the champion. He didn't, he admits, handle the pressure well when he defended his belt against Machida in 2009.

He's only 33, but he's experienced so much that he's far more aware and far more capable than he was five years ago.

"I'm at the point now where I've learned through the years to be a little less critical of myself now," Evans said. "I did too much to try to be perfect. I got to the point where I demanded virtual perfection and it almost paralyzed me to the point where I got afraid to fail. And if you're afraid to fail, you're afraid to go out there and try what it takes to be the champ.

"If you watch Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, guys like that, guys who put on a show, they're successful and come up with these great wins and fantastic finishes because they're not afraid to fail. They are relaxed and go out to win and they take chances when they fight. It makes a difference."

It's going to be a different Evans who meets Nogueira on Saturday, and that can't be good news for the veteran Brazilian.

And if Evans can successfully shed the weight to make the middleweight limit of 185 pounds, it won't be the best of news for Silva, the greatest fighter in the sport's brief history, either.

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